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Joseph Addison

Addison, Joseph, 1672–1719, English essayist, poet, and statesman. He was educated at Charterhouse, where he was a classmate of Richard Steele, and at Oxford, where he became a distinguished classical scholar. His travels on the Continent from 1699 to 1703 were recorded in Remarks on Italy (1705). Addison first achieved prominence with The Campaign (1704), an epic celebrating the victory of Marlborough at Blenheim. The poem was commissioned by Lord Halifax, and its great success resulted in Addison's appointment in 1705 as undersecretary of state and in 1709 as secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland. He also held a seat in Parliament from 1708 until his death. Addison's most enduring fame was achieved as an essayist. In 1710 he began his contributions to the Tatler, which Richard Steele had founded in 1709. He continued to write for successive publications, including the Spectator (1711–12), the Guardian (1713), and the new Spectator (1714). His contributions to these periodicals raised the English essay to a degree of technical perfection never before achieved and perhaps never since surpassed. In a prose style marked by simplicity, order, and precision, he sought to engage men's thoughts toward reason, moderation, and a harmonious life. His works also include an opera libretto, Rosamund (1707); a prose comedy, The Drummer (1716); and a neoclassical tragedy, Cato (1713), which had an immense success in its own time, but has since been regarded as artificial and sententious. In his last years Addison received his greatest prominence. In 1717 he was made secretary of state, an office he resigned the following year. But the period (1714–19) was also marked by failing health, a supposedly unhappy marriage, and the severing of his relations with his good friend Richard Steele.

See biography by P. H. B. O. Smithers (1954, repr. 1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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